We all know what a cucumber is and how it grows: it is a herbaceous plant from the Pumpkin family. Its liana-like stem spreads along the surface of the earth, deftly climbs onto supports, firmly holding on to them with the help of tenacious antennae. But rarely does anyone know about the existence of a cucumber tree. Nevertheless, on our planet there are 3 cultures at once that bear this original name. True, not all of them are even remotely related to this delicious juicy vegetable.
One of the types of cucumber trees grows in tropical latitudes: in Indonesia, Malaysia, the countries of Central and South America, the Philippines, and Tanzania. The locals call it bilimbi. It is cultivated for fruits that look like large cucumbers or small zucchini.
Bilimbi belongs to the oxalis family (oxalidaccae) and is a deciduous tree, 5-8, sometimes 9 m high. About a meter from the ground, its powerful, gray-brown trunk covered with small thorns begins to branch, forming a rather extensive crown. Large pinnate leaves lowered to the bottom have a long petiole (up to 50 cm in length) on which several dozen thin leaves are collected, having a dark green front surface and lighter from the inside. The tree resembles an acacia and has a very decorative appearance. In especially dry periods, to conserve moisture, it can completely shed its foliage. At night, the leaves fold, and unfold again in the morning to protect the fruits from the bright tropical sun.
During the flowering period, directly on its trunk, thin lateral shoots bloom star-like bright red, dark orange, yellow-green five-petal flowers collected in inflorescences. Their subtle pleasant fruity aroma attracts many pollinating insects.
After the end of flowering, clusters of fruits are formed in place of the inflorescences.
When unripe, they are very similar to cucumbers: they have an elongated shape and are covered with a thin but dense green skin. The pulp is crispy, greenish. When mature, they reach a length of 12-14 cm with a diameter of 3-5 cm and acquire a creamy, white color, which makes them similar to small marrows. The surface becomes ribbed, and at the end, as on cucumbers, dried flower baskets remain. The pulp is filled with juice, acquires sourness, making it similar to the taste of lemon or lime. The peel becomes thinner, so when harvesting fresh fruits, care must be taken not to crush the "cucumbers".
Seeds in fruits are quite rare. They are brown in color and reach a width of 6 mm.
Use of bilimbi
Despite the decorativeness of the cucumber tree, local residents grow it not only for beauty, but also for domestic needs. At the same time, not only fruits are used, but also wood and leaves.
- In farming
Like many other plants growing in the tropical zone, bilimbi are able to accumulate moisture in wood tissues. The viscous milky juice gives it softness. Taking advantage of this, the locals use the juicy pulp as pet food, especially during dry periods.
- In cooking
- At home
- In medicine
- In religion
- Reproduction by cuttings
- Reproduction by seeds
- Landing in open ground
Depending on the place of growth, the fruits of the cucumber tree may taste like grapes, apples, plums. However, the high acid content makes it almost impossible to eat them raw. However, the natives have adapted to use "cucumbers" as a seasoning, adding them to meat, fish, vegetable dishes, sauces, soft drinks, marinades.
To remove excess acid from fruits, they are pre-treated: they are pierced in several places and immersed in salt water for several hours. After that, jelly, candied fruits are prepared from them, candied, getting the original sweet and sour delicacy.
The high content of oxalic acid in the pulp of fruits determines its use by local residents as a cleaning agent for cleaning silver, brass utensils, jewelry, contaminated surfaces, and bleaching fabrics. It is added to the compositions in the manufacture of soaps, perfumes, cosmetics.
Of great importance is the cucumber tree for traditional medicine. Locals use fresh leaves to clean wounds caused by poisonous insects, snakes from poison. A decoction of the leaves helps to cure cough, relieve pain in rheumatism, joint pain. Flowers cure diarrhea.
African tribes have long worshiped bilimbi as a sacred tree, and its fruits are an important attribute of many religious rites.
Russian gardeners and flower growers are increasingly trying to grow previously unknown exotic plants on their own plot or in room conditions. Of course, a cucumber tree will not survive outdoors, but if you make a little effort, then bilimbi will become an ornament to your winter garden, greenhouse. Under natural conditions, the plant is not demanding on the soil, but for growing in a room it is better to take fertile soil by mixing it with river sand.
The main obstacle is the acquisition of seeds. It must be a seed extracted from a ripe, recently plucked fruit. It is placed in a container filled with a moist substrate, covered with glass and placed in a warm place. After the appearance of the sprout, it is provided with humidity, heat (not lower than 20 ° C) and bright lighting.
Plant care is not difficult. In addition to the sun, abundant watering and spraying, it must be periodically fed with mineral fertilizers. In winter, the amount of watering is reduced. In the spring, the crown is pruned. For the summer, the plant can be planted outdoors in the garden.
Once upon a time in prehistoric times in the Cretaceous, Tertiary period, magnolias grew almost throughout the planet up to the Arctic latitudes. Today, their natural range is limited to some areas of North America, the Far Eastern countries. For the first time, the plants got their name in 1703: Charles Plumier named them so in honor of Pierre Manol (French botanist). As a cultivated plant, they have been cultivated in Europe since the 18th century, including in our country. At first in Russia they were called Magnolia, but later it changed and received a modern sound.
There are almost 240 species in the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae). The most frost-resistant of them, able to tolerate low temperatures (up to -30 ° C). The tree is called pointed magnolia, but it also has another name - cucumber. This species was described in 1759 by the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus.
Cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) is a fairly tall, up to 25-30 m tall, deciduous tree. A young tree has a slender pyramidal crown up to 18 m in diameter. As it grows, its trunk thickens and can reach a diameter of 1.2 m.
Young pubescent shoots have a light olive color. From the age of two, the branches become covered with a wax coating, acquire a reddish-brown hue, gradually turning into an ash-gray tone. On the trunk, the bark is dark brown with deep furrows.
Large, up to 2-3 cm long buds, shortly appressed, covered with thin silky-silver villi. Obovate, oblong or elliptical leaves can reach a length of 25 cm and a width of 10-15 cm. They are attached to the branches with short thin petioles. The surface of the leaf plate is smooth, green above, with a slight pubescence of a bluish hue with pronounced veins below.
In April-June, trees older than 9 years old are covered with small yellow-greenish flowers, which practically merge with the foliage that has already opened. Each flower is a small bell formed by six ovoid or spatulate elongated petals, enclosed in a cup of 3 sepals quickly bent to the bottom.
Pollination occurs with the help of beetles, since the flowers do not smell and do not attract the aroma of bees and other insects. From pollinated flowers, fruits are formed - prefabricated leaflets, shaped like small light green cucumbers 5-10 cm long and about 2-2.5 cm in diameter. In September-October, the fruits ripen, acquiring a bright crimson-red color. They can be flat or slightly curved, covered with bright coral-red fleshy berries. In each such berry there are 3-7 seeds.
Cucumber magnolia is a rather unpretentious plant and can be used for cultivation on open ground even in Central Russia. To obtain planting material, seeds obtained from fruit-bearing trees or cuttings are used.
This is the easiest, and therefore the most popular way. The only problem is the acquisition of cuttings. They are cut from two-year-old branches, but so-called leaf cuttings can also be used. To do this, the leaf is cut along with the petiole and part of the bark. Places of cuts are treated with a special agent that accelerates root formation. Drainage is poured at the bottom of the tank, and soil (substrate) with a neutral reaction is poured on top of it. Even a small amount of lime in the soil can ruin the entire procedure. Containers with cuttings are kept in a greenhouse for 2-3 months. In June-July, seedlings are planted in prepared holes, where mineral fertilizers are added.
Ripe fruits are disassembled into separate seeds, thoroughly cleaned of the pericarp and washed under running water, after which stratification is carried out. To do this, a layer of moss is placed in a closed container, moistened. Seeds are laid out on the surface and covered with another layer of sphagnum. The container is closed and placed in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. Periodically check the moisture content of the moss. In March-April, the seeds are taken out and planted in individual containers for germination, then during the transplantation process, do not damage the roots. Shoots will appear in about 1-1.5 months.
The site where magnolia cucumber will grow should be protected from wind and drafts, but well lit by the sun, with slightly acidic soil. However, at noon, direct sunlight should not fall on the plant. Transplantation is carried out in the fall, when the seedling is at rest. Before the tree reaches the age of 3 years, its root part is mulched with needles, straw, covered with spruce branches and cloth for the winter.
By about the age of 3-4 years, the tree adapts to the climatic conditions of the area in which it will grow. From now on, the duration of flowering, which initially does not exceed a few days, will gradually increase. Cucumber trees need to be watered only during dry periods. Weeds must be removed manually, without the use of garden tools, so as not to damage the roots. During the vegetative period, the plant is fed once with mineral or organic fertilizers. In the spring, if necessary, pruning is carried out, removing damaged branches, shoots that violate the decorative effect of the tree.
Off the east coast of Africa off the coast of Somalia is the island of Socotra, which is part of the archipelago of the same name. It grows many different plants that cannot be found in other regions of the planet. One such endemic plant is Dendrositsios Socotra. This tree is the only tree-like representative of the Pumpkin family, that is, not a very distant relative of pumpkin, melon, cucumber.
The Scottish botanist Isaac Bailey Balfour in the second half of the 19th century traveled to the islands of the Indian Ocean, visiting, in particular, Socotra. In 1882, he published his work, in which the Socotran cucumber tree, Dendrosicyos socotranus, was first described.
Adapted to life in conditions of lack of moisture, it has a very unusual appearance, resembling outwardly a bottle, a mace. Its thick trunk at the base has a diameter of about 1-1.5 m, while the height rarely exceeds 4-5 m, although sometimes it can reach 7 m. keep moisture between cells. Like the baobab, dendrositsios uses it during dry periods, which allows it to survive in extreme conditions.
The trunk is covered with white or gray tuberous bark with a characteristic pattern. Combined with the original shape, this makes it look like a giant elephant's leg. The locals call it the Elephant's Foot.
The top of an almost completely bare tree trunk is crowned with an irregularly shaped crown panicle. Small in size, thin and prickly, but numerous branches and twigs are covered with long, up to 25 cm, leaves growing in a spiral. Three-lobed leaf plates, resembling cucumber leaves, have notches and small spikes (thorns) along the edge, which die off as they grow older, the surface is wrinkled, prickly. Brownish-green leaves are attached to branches with long petioles. The smell of dendrositsios greenery is unpleasant, and it gives very little shade, so it is unlikely that it will be possible to hide under a cucumber tree from the burning rays of the tropical sun.
The first flowering of dendrositsios occurs at the age of 5 years, when the pachykaul is almost formed. The flowers collected in small inflorescences have an elongated shape characteristic of melons, a fluffy (thick) pedicel and a bright yellow color. Each tree bears flowers of both sexes. First, the male ones bloom, having 3 long protruding stamens. During the day, the pollen ripens, therefore, as soon as the female flowers open, the hallmark of which is an ovary resembling small green zucchini squash, the pollination process immediately begins.
After successful pollination, fruits begin to develop in place of the flowers. Initially foul-smelling, green in color, watery on the inside and prickly on the outside, they turn bright orange as they grow. Fully ripe fruits of an elongated shape (4-5 cm long) burst on the sides, presenting an orange pulp with flat seeds about 5-6 mm long. Each "cucumber" contains 3-4 seeds.
Dendrositsios reproduces only by seed. Young tender, newly sprouted sprouts of the cucumber tree, outwardly resembling cucumber seedlings, are food for wild and domestic animals. Goats are especially fond of them, which are able to exterminate, trample almost the entire growth. To prevent the death of seedlings, local residents fence them. Most often, for this, bushes of another exotic plant, Lycium Socotransky, are planted around, through the thorny thickets of which animals cannot reach their favorite delicacy.
The fruits of the cucumber tree not only smell unpleasant, but are absolutely inedible for humans. At the same time, their voluminous trunks, which together with wood consist of fiber, are very soft and fragile. They, like ordinary cucumber lashes, can be cut with a sharp knife. Taking advantage of this, the natives of the island of Socotra, who carefully treat the amazing plants growing on their lands, use trunks filled with moisture, from which the bark is previously removed. And the leaves of dendrositsios in especially dry periods as food for their pets. This leads to a gradual reduction in the number of cucumber trees - the only tree-like representatives of the gourd family.
Tropics on the windowsill
The cucumber tree is unpretentious, but it is unlikely that it will be possible to grow it in a home garden. At the same time, dendrositsios can be grown as an indoor flower. True, it is quite difficult to do this. Seeds of the cucumber tree quickly lose their viability, in addition, according to the laws in force in Socotra, it is forbidden to collect seeds in the wild.
In its natural environment, the succulent prefers rocky, sandy soil, but if you manage to get a seedling, then select a fertile substrate with high air permeability for it. Adapted over many millions of years to survive in drought conditions, the plant does not grow well in excessively moist soil, and under adverse conditions it may die altogether. Therefore, it is advisable to water it as little as possible.